INDIANAPOLIS — For the second straight year, Juan Pablo Montoya will rejoin Arrow McLaren SP with an opportunity to do a very rare feat. Not only can Montoya become just the 10th driver to win at least 3 Indianapolis 500 crowns, but he’d become just the 3rd driver to ever win 3 ‘500’s with 3 different teams.
However, so are his teammates. Especially Pato O’Ward. The thing is, both have struck a close relationship over the past year with Montoya and O’Ward not only hitting things off last May here but they’re picking up where the left off in 2021. Montoya would be bummed if he didn’t win the Indy 500 on May 29, but if O’Ward does, it was ease the sting.
Montoya has taken a liking to O’Ward even though O’Ward says that the door isn’t always open to pick Montoya’s brain for advice. Montoya says O’Ward doesn’t need it. He’s as talented as they come.
“His car is always better in traffic because he’s so the edge by himself,” Montoya said in a very witty and candid interview with a group of reporters from the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway victory podium on Tuesday morning. “But he’s comfortable.”
Montoya, compared that to himself in which he says that he’s set in his ways and isn’t afraid to share it.
“Last year in the final laps for myself, I had a bad start and my car was getting really good in traffic,” Montoya continued in the same breath. “Then I got in clean air and I had to bail. They said there’s like 10 more laps to go and I was like ‘I aint driving this thing for 10 laps!’ It’s true. I lifted and waited for a couple of guys to pass me and I got behind them. Because I needed to burn the front tires off.”
That’s a prime example on what draws O’Ward to Montoya even if it’s not necessarily much on track wisdom. It’s his actions and his use or words from real experiences to what O’Ward like.
Montoya is real O’Ward says. He’s honest. He may come by and say, “man you’re going to crash” to O’Ward after looking over data and the Mexican driver then says that he then needs to be prepared for what can happen next.
Another example is just the mannerisms Montoya drops. How he carries himself. How he speaks up in meetings. Actions speak louder than words for O’Ward and what Montoya does resonates well within in brain. He’s a sponge for Montoya and what he says sticks with him.
“Ah the weather sucks so I’m not going to drive,” O’Ward said on what Montoya would do. “Kind of like there’s no need. Like if you’re feeling good, don’t overdo it. You don’t have to overtest. You don’t have to overdo your program.”
Montoya seamlessly picked up where O’Ward’s sentence ended. They’re like that you see. They play well off one another. They did for a solid 10, maybe 15 minutes. But who’s keeping track? They opened up so honestly, so easily to talk to, I didn’t realize how long it was until I looked up and saw several more drivers now around waiting for a chance to chat. It’s the type of friendship between these two to where you know they could easily finish each others sentences. It’s something they do in debriefs but were doing so in Spanish together. With no one in the engineering room knowing how to speak Spanish, it was also something that the bosses at AMSP put to a halt immediately. They still joke now about it.
They also bond over their love of tacos Montoya says and O’Ward picks up on cue to give a hilarious detail of a dinner each had together at a restaurant.
That’s how it was talking with them on Day 1 of Indianapolis 500 practice. They made it seem no natural together.
“There’s a lot of things your engineers want to try but if you don’t like it, don’t do it,” Montoya said. “If you try something that scares the hell out of you don’t keep driving to get the data. Sooner or later it’s going to bite you and you’re going to put it in the wall to get some data. I’ve done some runs here when I left the pits and got to Turn 3 and came in and was like no I’m not driving it. Screw that.”
That honestly is what O’Ward likes and it’s making him better. For Montoya, he doesn’t know if this will be his last Indy 500 but it may be his final one with AMSP. The team is wanting to expand to three full time cars and Montoya isn’t likely wanting a full time return.
As to what makes him so good here?
“I’ve always been very good on ovals and I have no idea why,” he says. “I had more success here in America driving ovals but I grew up on road courses. It’s good. Like Indy I really understand the race. That’s a big part.
“At Texas you can be a bit more sideways and like a short oval. If you’re not crashing at Texas, you’re not fast. If you’re neutral or comfortable, you’re slow. In Texas the car needs to scare you. Here is a little bit different. I don’t know where that zone is and I’m not interested in finding out.”
Montoya doesn’t crash often. His Turn 2 crash in 2016 is the only one I can recall. O’Ward though, well he found the wall a hard way back in 2019 with Carlin.
“I have and it was the biggest shunt of my career,” he said. “It was painful. It was like 86 g’s or something. It’s freaking miserable to drive around here when your car is terrible. OH MY GOD. That’s when you hate your job. When your car is good? Man, it’s awesome. It’s hard to be good here.
Montoya picks up what O’Ward is saying and notes that it’s really easy to be average and have a decent car but to be mega, is really hard.
“I think it’s harder now with the Aeroscreen,” notes O’Ward. “In traffic, the sense of being drivable and ready to attack.”
Montoya laughs and nods his head in agreement.
“I always tell my guys to just be careful with the younger guys because they’re trying to prove a point,” Montoya tells me as he’s about done and ready to get back to Gasoline Alley after 15 strong minutes of conversation. “Most of the guys that are trying to prove a point never make it to the end of the race anyways.”